Miller: More valuable than ever

The federal government's emphasis on information sharing and collaboration, particularly in the homeland security arena, is welcome and necessary. Before the war on terrorism, the federal government didn't have an imperative comparable to the profit motive in the private sector to implement sound information management practices.

Benefits such as improved service to citizens and better stewardship of resources are significant, but it took the 2001 terrorist attacks to create a sense of urgency about transforming how we handle information within the federal enterprise.

Poor information management no longer simply produces inadequate citizen services or wastes taxpayer dollars. If we can't get the right information to the right people at the right time, people will die.

Since collectively determining that information is the differentiator between life and death, we have written laws and executive orders on information sharing and collaboration. We have created new organizations and leadership positions to promote cross-agency and multijurisdictional information exchange. I encourage our federal leaders, however, to learn from industry and tap into a valuable resource already at their disposal: chief information officers.

As technology becomes ubiquitous, industry CIOs are turning to information as the pathway to a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In that respect, the Clinger-Cohen Act was prescient, giving federal CIOs the authority to define and recommend improvements to work processes of executive agencies. Information sharing is essentially a series of processes that leads to a desired outcome. And corporate CIOs are turning their talents to defining and streamlining the processes that best apply information and enable companies to make better decisions and deliver faster service than their competitors.

What can the federal government do to mirror this shift in the CIO community from technology to information? First and foremost, it should include CIOs as early as possible in the process of defining a new service or enhancing an existing one. CIOs can address critical issues, such as:

  • How to collect information so that the burden on customers is minimized.
  • How to manage information in accordance with federal laws and regulations.
  • How to reduce duplicative information collection and promote reuse across multiple programs, thereby increasing information accuracy and quality.
  • How to integrate a program's information service into an existing IT enterprise.

The alternative is to have the CIO bear the bad news when solutions do not comply with existing federal mandates or are technologically incompatible.

CIOs should design information processes that accomplish the mission and then deliver solutions that make them a reality. CIOs, who know how to make information work, and business owners, who know what information they need to achieve their objectives, must work together in government as they do in industry.

Let's emphasize the "I" in CIO. Our country's security depends on it.

Miller, a senior principal at SRA International, was formerly CIO at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He can be reached at Ron_Miller@sra.com.

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